Friday, October 5, 2012

What the Experts Say: Interview with Historical Fiction Author Anna Patricio

Anna Patricio, Author

Ancient history author Anna Patricio joins us today. Anna loves ancient history -- especially that of Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. That passion led her to study Ancient History at Macquarie University, Australia and to travel to Lower Egypt (specifically Cairo and the Sinai), Israel, and Jordan. We are fortunate that her enthusiasm for the subject resulted in ASENETH -  a novel about a fisherman's daughter in ancient Egypt kidnapped and forced to live as a slave.  



Joyce:  Thank you so much for joining us today. How did you initially become interested in historical Egypt and writing about it? What inspires you to write in the historical fiction genre?

 Anna Patricio: I owe my love for history to a teacher I had back in high school. Before that, I actually did not like history at all. I thought it was dreadfully boring. This teacher, however, was like a storyteller. She made history come alive. At times, I felt like I was actually there. I guess somewhere along the way, she subconsciously influenced me.

Soon, I was reading about history for leisure. And I guess it is because she taught me mostly ancient history that I gravitated towards that particular era. Aside from Ancient Egypt though, I also love Ancient Israel, Greece and Rome. I hope to get better acquainted with the Near East in the future.

As for writing about it—well to be honest, when I wrote Asenath, it was my interest in the story of Joseph that drove me rather than the historical setting. But of course, one thing led to another, and I eventually grew interested in the latter factor—writing an Ancient Egyptian novel, I mean.

I loved writing a novel with an ancient Egyptian setting so much that I’ve decided to make my second novel Egyptian themed as well. I have a lot of fun envisioning the palaces, the gardens, the temples - how they all might have looked like originally, in their prime. It’s also a lot of fun describing the people and their costuming, especially their awesome style of wearing eyeliner! Ancient Egypt was truly one of a kind.

I guess I also like writing historical fiction because it allows me to travel to another time and place. If I wrote contemporary, I’d be visualizing about things and people I see everyday. Not that there’s anything wrong with it of course – maybe in the future I could be trying my hand at it (one never knows). But for now, in my personal writing adventure, I like to travel to some place different.

Possibly I would not have thought of indulging in historical fiction if it had not been for an acquaintance who introduced me to Wilbur Smith’s River God. This happened not long after I developed my interest in history, by the way.
At that time, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as historical fiction. So I didn’t know what to expect.

But I was very impressed with the novel. And I loved the opportunities historical fiction presented—how you could “humanize” larger-than-life historical people and how you could fill in the gaps where history was silent.

Then I thought, “What if I do that with my favorite Biblical story—the story of Joseph?”

Joyce:  One of your reviewers cites your “memorable” characters. How do you build your characters in an historical setting? How do you make your characters engaging?

Anna Patricio:  Well, I am flattered some people think so! Well obviously I have to do an amount of research to make the character fit into their historical settings. Yet, I also draw on both their strengths and weaknesses; I don’t want them to be too perfect.
I also try to emphasize on the humanity of the characters—their thoughts, feelings, etc. I wanted the readers to be able to think these were people they could relate to.

Although… I guess I went a bit too far when I employed contemporary speech. This has been mentioned to me numerous times. And actually, my mentor mentioned this to me as well, but I was a bit hard-headed and paid no attention to the advice.

I also do like the readers to be drawn to a different time and place. So I promise that in my next novel, as well as a future edition of Asenath, I will make the dialogue more period drama-ish. I will, will I not?

Joyce: How important is back story for historical fiction? Did you need to do much research to make the story credible and make ancient Egypt real?

Anna Patricio:  Certainly. If you want a good historical novel, you must do research. In between revisions, I spent many hours in the library of my alma mater. The university I went to is known for Ancient History, so I really took advantage of their extensive collection.

I did a lot of research on the priesthood (seeing as my main character was from a priestly family), the temples, the royalty, and Egyptian daily life. I admit it may not be perfect, but I really tried to make the Ancient Egyptian atmosphere as authentic as possible.

 Joyce:  How do you make events, characters, and action from ancient Egypt relevant to today’s world?

Anna Patricio:  Well, like I said above, I show the things everyday humans would experience--joys, sorrows, and concerns. I wanted the Ancient Egyptians in my novel to be human beings that readers could identify with, rather than grand and imposing statues or paintings.

For instance, Pharaohs are often shown as being powerhouse workaholics. And, yes, ruling a kingdom was no easy feat. But surely Pharaoh also had joys, sorrows, and arguments with, say, his close family members? Or surely sometimes, he longed to escape from the demands of Palace life and go hunting or fishing? He was human too—though he certainly didn’t think so (he thought he was a god through and through).

There are actually statues in which Pharaoh doesn’t seem to hesitate to show his sweet romantic side—he and his queen are shown with their arms around each other, for instance.

Joyce: What elements do you think are most important in creating a compelling story? Is it different in your genre from other genres?

Anna Patricio:  Well, I haven’t explored other genres… yet? We’ll see though. I never know.
But basically, I think the old adage follows in creating a compelling tale: “write what you know.” Cliché, perhaps, but true. At least, in my experience. I’ve tried writing about stuff I wasn’t too passionate about, but it came out looking rather mechanical.

Joyce:  Who are your target readers? What do they care about most?

Anna Patricio:  Well, basically anyone who loves history or romance or drama. And basically anyone who knows the story of Joseph—even better if they are enthusiasts about it, like I am. I am always interested to hear what people think of my retelling of the Joseph story.

The most common remark I’ve gotten is: “I didn’t know Joseph had a wife!” If I got a dollar every time I heard or read that…

Joyce: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Hobbies: Reading (obviously), TV or movies, photography (though I haven’t done any in ages), and spending time with my dachshund Chestnut.

Are you a dog or a cat person: A dog person, for sure. I have nothing against cats though, I just like dogs better.

Movies, TV or live theater: Either, if there’s something good.

Joyce: What advice would you give to others who are interested in pursuing a career in writing? Would you recommend self-publishing?

Anna Patricio:  I haven’t tried self-publishing it yet, but I know a lot of people who do and seem pretty happy and content with it. So I suppose there’s no harm in trying. I’ve read a lot of brilliant self-published stuff.

As for advice—well, for those seeking traditional publication, I recommend you look up an agent or publisher before you query them. It was when I began researching the publication process that I realized there are so many dodgy agents and publishers out there. So be careful.

Joyce:  Would you like to add anything?

Anna Patricio:  To quote an Ancient Egyptian blessing: “May you always drink from the Nile.” Thank you for having me on your blog, Joyce!


Two Destinies...One Journey of Love

In a humble fishing village on the shores of the Nile lives Asenath, a fisherman's daughter who has everything she could want. Until her perfect world is shattered.

When a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps her, separating her from her parents, she is forced to live as a slave. And she begins a journey that will culminate in the meeting of a handsome and kind steward named Joseph.

Like her, Joseph was taken away from his home, and it is in him that Asenath comes to find solace…and love. But just as they are beginning to form a bond, Joseph is betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown into prison.

Anna Patricio

Anna Patricio is a lover of ancient history, with a particular interest in Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. She is also intrigued by the Ancient Near East, though she has not delved too much into it but hopes to one day.

She undertook formal studies in Ancient History at Macquarie University. She focused mostly on Egyptology and Jewish-Christian Studies, alongside a couple of Greco-Roman units, and one on Archaeology. Though she knew there were very limited job openings for ancient history graduates, she pursued her degree anyway as it was something she had always been passionate about.

Then, about a year after her graduation, the idea to tackle historical fiction appeared in her head, and she began happily pounding away on her laptop. ASENATH is her first novel.

Recently, she traveled to Lower Egypt (specifically Cairo and the Sinai), Israel, and Jordan. She plans to return to Egypt soon, and see more of it. In the past, she has also been to Athens and Rome.

Anna is currently working on a second novel, which still takes place in Ancient Egypt, but hundreds of years after ASENATH.

Is Asenath doomed to a lifetime of losing everything and everyone she loves?


  Book purchase sites
Paperback: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells

     Twitter: @AnnaPatricio


  1. A very enjoyable interview Joyce, you put your subjects t ease so easily.
    Anna, I'm a big fan of history and will at some stage be seeking your books out. Thanks for the obvious enthusiasm for the subject which means I'll find you a compelling read.

    1. Thanks so much for your interest. Anna has a lot to offer. I, too, am a history buff, so can relate to her interest.

    2. You're welcome, Lord David. I hope you'll be able to read my book soon. Thank you for your interest. Nice to hear you too like history.

  2. Joyce, I loved this interview.
    Anna I too was inspired by a teacher in high school, he changed my life and lit a fire in me that still burn today,best of luck with your books :)

    1. I appreciate your comment. It's helpful when doing an interview to have such an accomplished interviewee!

    2. Yes, teachers can certainly have a huge impact. I've heard of several other people who have been greatly influenced by a teacher. Thank you for reading the interview.

  3. This was an amazing interview Joyce Strand, wow such great and compelling questions. Anna Patricio, wow, it was so amazing learning more about you and how you began your love of Ancient History, and how you tackled your love of The Egyptian History. I loved how your background all led you to your first novel- Kudos to you and I can not wait to read it! This was truly a very insightful interview!

    Syl Stein

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. I enjoy history and therefore found Anna's story compelling.

    2. Thank you Sylvia. The questions Joyce posed were very thought provoking.

  4. Great interview Joyce and Anna, I love learning about what inspires writer's and where they get their inspiration from and this has been particularly interesting with Anna's love for History Ancient Egypt. Well done ladies

    1. Thank you for your comments. I really enjoyed interviewing Anna. And I concur with your love of learning about what inspires writers. The road to a finished book is a story itself!